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One look at Tracy’s face reminds us that farm life isn’t an easy life.

(2017) Drama (Gravitas) Amy Ryan, Terry Kinney, Max Gail, Steve Coulter, Francis Guinan. Directed by Angus MacLachlan

It is a fact that America’s heartland isn’t terribly well-served by Hollywood. Often those who live in Middle America, those that grow our food are portrayed as bumpkins, buffoons or obsessive. Those who have religion are ridiculed; even those who don’t are made to look like stubborn coots hanging on to a way of life that is dying. Thus is the state of the family farmer in the second decade of the 21st century.

Jesse (Kinney) and his adopted sister Tracy (Ryan) are burying their father, recently deceased from stomach cancer, in the field where he toiled for fifty years. Primarily a tobacco farmer, he also grew corn and sorghum. Now his children are struggling to figure out what the hell to do next.

That question is set aside when they find three elderly men camping in their fields in a tent. It turns out that the three men – Hans (Gail), Charles (Coulter) and Tom (Guinan) – are brothers and they have a connection to the farm; they lived on it before Tracy was born. It belonged to their father and he sold it to their recently deceased dad – “Missed him by a week,” the pragmatic Tom says disconsolately.

Jesse, a man of faith, found religion when his life was absolutely destroyed by a tragedy. He believes the arrival of the brothers is a sign, an opportunity to right a wrong. Jesse wants to give them the farm, which his father used the brothers’ dad’s misfortune to his own advantage to purchase. The brothers are aging and Tom, who recently suffered a stroke, is in failing health. He also has a habit of saying course sexual remarks to Tracy, who bears them with the grace of a polar bear. Tracy is adamant; this is her farm as much as it is Jesse’s and the two argue incessantly about it.

Charles has become just a little sweet on Tracy which has been noticed by everyone except for maybe Tracy herself. The brothers are interested in buying the land; Tom wants to be buried there when it’s his time to go; the three live in Orlando and they certainly don’t want to be buried there where they feel no connection other than to a ratty old couch. The land – now that’s something else. Even though they haven’t been back in 50 years, it’s still home. It still calls to them.

As I mentioned, the people portrayed here represent a segment of the American public that has been underserved by Hollywood and in many ways, looked down upon by the elites of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. These are the salt of the earth, those that tend the land and put food on our tables. Maybe they have been idealized a little bit here – unlike most family farms these days, Tracy and Jesse don’t seem to have any financial issues in keeping their farm afloat. We also don’t get a sense of the backbreaking work it takes to farm tobacco; most of this film takes place post-harvest during the late autumn and early winter months. The landscape is appropriately stark and yet rich at the same time.

Still, we get a sense of the people. Jesse, despite his rock-solid faith, is still suffering from the tragedy that befell him. He desperately wants to do the right thing and in a way, this is his way of atoning. Kinney doesn’t make Jesse too much of a martyr although he easily could; Jesse is complex and Kinney lets all his layers show.

Still, the performance of the film belongs to Amy Ryan. Tracy is almost crazed with grief in a lot of ways; Jesse wants to bury his father in consecrated ground but Tracy is insistent his ashes be buried where he toiled nearly all his life; the fields of tobacco and corn have been consecrated with his blood, his sweat and his love. Tracy sees that far more clearly than Jesse and Tracy is a bit more strident about it.

She’s not an easy character to like but we can at least relate to her and the longer the movie – which is only an hour and 16 minutes long – goes the more sympathetic she becomes. Tracy is pushing the half century mark and has spent most of her life taking care of her brother and her adopted father and things like marriage and family have passed her by. She doesn’t particularly love the farm but it’s the only home she’s ever known.

Cinematographer Andrew Reed lets us see the beauty in the stark fields, the decrepit farmhouse, the aging barn. We also see that behind the careworn lines on Tracy’s face there is a lovely woman behind them. Reed does as good a job as any cinematographer I’ve seen in making a middle aged woman beautiful without sacrificing her years; Tracy doesn’t look young for her age but she’s still beautiful.

Things move along slowly despite the brief length of the film; some might even opine that this would have made a better short film than a feature and they might have a point. Still, the movie captures a tone and a rhythm that belongs to those who toil on the land and there is a necessary beauty to that. Most Hollywood productions wouldn’t bother. I would have liked to see more of what drew these five people to the land other than the generations that lived and died there but the story being told here is a compelling one and there’s not a false note anywhere in the movie. This isn’t going to get distribution in a lot of areas but if it is playing near you I urge you to seek it out or if not, seek it out when it makes it to VOD. This is one of the best films of the year and you probably won’t see a lot of ink about it even so.

REASONS TO GO: The people and the ethics of America’s Heartland are nicely captured. This is a movie about the salt of the earth for people who relate to that feeling. The film is very well-written and very brief. Some truly lovely cinematography is here.
REASONS TO STAY: Despite the short length of the film the pace is glacial.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, including sexual references
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival where it won the Best Screenplay award.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/1/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The River
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT:
The Rape of Recy Taylor

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Florida Film Festival 2012


That time of year is upon us as the Florida Film Festival will return for its 21st year on April 13th through April 22nd. The FFF’s unique combination of exciting films, delicious food and fun make it one of the most laid-back, enjoyable film festivals anywhere. It is also one of the best-curated – two out of the last three years the movie I chose as best of the year was one I saw right here at the Florida Film Festival. That gives you an idea of the quality of the films selected year after year.

Why go to a film festival? Aren’t they for film snobs so they can get together and watch subtitled and indie films while looking down their noses at mainstream movies? Maybe at some festivals but not this one. The people who attend the Florida Film Festival are film lovers; their only criterion is that the movie have something to offer. Sure, they might turn up their noses at movies that aren’t made well or don’t have anything in particular to say but for the most part the people who are regular attendees at the FFF are people who see a lot of movies, mainstream as well as independent.

And these aren’t all movies about 20-something hipsters in complicated relationships while living in lofts in New York City; at the FFF you’ll find children’s films, horror movies, classic films, action films, hysterically funny shorts, compelling documentaries and musicals. There is literally something for every taste in movies and every kind of story imaginable. If you are a little open-minded and like to have a good time, this is the party you’re missing and trust me, it’s one you want to go to.

There are special food events where celebrity chefs show off their skills; there are movies that take special pride in our Florida home as Florida-bred filmmakers show why this area is rapidly becoming a spawning ground for great filmmakers. There are midnight movies showing the best in genre filmmaking from around the world. There are short films from around the world and around the corner, both animated and live action (and just for the record, the most recent winner of the Oscar for Animated Short Subject was screened at last year’s Florida Film Festival).

So what do they have in store for us this year? A wealth of great movies – over 170 features will be screened during this year’s Festival. Some of the ones I’m looking forward to are Renee, the locally made film covering the story of Renee Yohe, the inspiration for the charity group To Write Love On Her Arms (it is also the opening night film) and Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary covering the world’s only three Michelin star-rated sushi chef. There’s also the latest horror film from Don Coscarelli (auteur of Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep) called John Dies in the End. There’s the Norwegian sexual coming of age film Turn Me On, Dammit! and the Canadian schoolroom drama Monsieur Lazhar (which was also nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar this year although it didn’t win), not to mention the Paul Simon documentary Under African Skies and the sophisticated animated feature A Cat in Paris.

Some that I’m planning to see (among most of the ones above as well) include Salt of the Earth (the sequel to Mid-August Lunch), the thriller Headhunters, Luc Besson’s biopic of Aung San Suu Kyi (the pro-democracy activist and Nobel laureate under house arrest in Myanmar) The Lady and the French box office record breaker The Intouchables. Those whose tastes lean towards classic movies will be thrilled to hear that among those classics screening this year include Marriage Italian Style, To Kill a Mockingbird, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Liberty Heights.

Of note is the Rick Springfield documentary Affair of the Heart. Made by local documentary director Sylvia Caminer, it set a Florida Film Festival record by selling out it’s Thursday night screening in less than an hour (it doesn’t hurt that Springfield will be making an appearance at the screening). There are a few tickets left for the Saturday noon screening on April 14th if you’re still looking to see it – it’s supposed to be an amazing documentary and from the clips I’ve seen it is going to appeal to his fans and non-fans alike.

And I could go on and on – but you get the point. There are some really good movies, several of which are most likely destined for my year-end top ten. There is the good food not only at the Enzian and Eden Bar but also at events hosted by Luma of Winter Park, Whole Foods Market and of course the Opening Night Party, featuring food from some of the best restaurants in Central Florida. There are great venues including the Enzian itself, The Regal in Winter Park Village and Central Park in downtown Winter Park. You can find more ticket information for the Festival and information about all the movies and shorts being screened at their website here.

So keep an eye on Cinema365 for more information about upcoming celebrity appearances at the Festival, reviews of the movies being screened and further preview information about the Festival. This year looks to be bigger and better than ever and we wouldn’t want you to miss a thing.

Tickets for individual films run at $10 apiece (once they go on sale – see website for details) and packages start as low as $50 (and usually include goodies like posters or programs) or you can go whole hog and get yourself a pass which gets you into any and/or all screenings. Those start at $450 and go up to $1000 a pass (for the film lover who has everything – and wants more). So yeah, ten bucks a ticket isn’t all that bad and even if you just pick a single film to see, you’ll be hooked for life. There’s nothing quite like a film festival and there are none quite like the Florida Film Festival. See for yourself – you’ll be thanking me for it later.